Behind the helm of discovery

Village: Drawing on south Arundel's natural treasures and nautical traditions, Adam Hewison has big plans for his stretch of land along Parrish Creek.

May 31, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

He has lived on Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Chicago's Lake Michigan. But the way Adam Hewison sees it, Parrish Creek in the tiny Southern Anne Arundel community of Shady Side ranks right up there when it comes to waterside charm.

From a set of institutional-style buildings on the creek, Hewison runs his Internet financial services company and oversees the emergence of his dream for Shady Side. Since moving here 14 years ago, the 56-year-old British-born entrepreneur has embraced life on this quiet peninsula, and he is working to celebrate and preserve it by creating a research, recreation and education complex called Discovery Village.

"Our idea is to open this place up and share it with the whole community," he said. "This creek is the most active on the Western shore for watermen, and we want kids to come here and say, `This is where fish come from, not Giant or Safeway.'"

He envisions a terrapin nesting beach, a waterside trail for hikers, a cafe with freshly caught seafood and a community gathering place - all on the 8 acres of waterfront property where Hewison runs his business,

Although the completion of Discovery Village is at least three years away, the transformation of the austere facilities is apparent.

Murals of underwater and seaside scenes painted by local students brighten walls in the building that houses's offices. A camera in a second-story office window records the activities of an osprey sitting on its nest above the creek and transmits the images via the Internet on "ospreycam." The dock is home to a handful of local watermen who tie up at Discovery Village's pier.

Since he began talking publicly about the Discovery Village concept three years ago, Hewison has encountered skepticism about his ability to pull the ambitious project together. But his tenacity and enthusiasm have won over some doubters.

"We're really lucky to have a local who bought it [the property] and is doing right by the community," said Michael Shay, a leader of SACReD, a South County environmental group.

The path to Shady Side has been a winding one for Hewison, who was born to a working-class family in a coal mining town in the north of England.

At age 18, he sailed to New York, where he worked as a hairdresser, and later opened his own salon in Bermuda. He moved to Chicago in 1975 and broke into the financial industry as a foreign exchange trader, trading on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Later based in Geneva, he traded on several foreign exchanges.

In 1990, he left behind life in the world's high finance centers and married Washington lawyer Sally Rich. The couple wanted to live on the water and moved into a contemporary home on the West River.

In 1995, working out of an office above his garage, Hewison founded one of the first investment sites on the Internet. Initially, provided free information geared mainly to futures and options traders; during the next few years, it started selling videos and books on investing, and acquired an investor education seminar business.

Seeking more space for employees, Hewison heard that a Parrish Creek property owned by the Johns Hopkins University was for sale.

Within two months, the place was his. Hewison paid $950,000 for the property, according to state land records.

The gated complex, built in the 1940s by Chesapeake Instruments, was a secure testing site for sonar technology. Johns Hopkins bought the property for a research facility but shut down operations in 1993.

"The community really faced a lottery of what could go in there," Shay said. "You could only imagine the possibilities that we faced in terms of large corporations coming in."

Before moved to the site, Hewison made boat slips and storage available to watermen at the Parrish Creek dock for $150 a month - about half of the cost at a marina.

"This is a godsend to us because owners of marinas don't want us," said Anne Arundel County Watermen's Association President Bob Evans, who has rented a slip at Discovery Village for a couple of years. "This is a big sailboat and powerboat county, and actually a lot of us have just run out of areas to work out of."

To open up the long-gated site, Hewison made meeting space available to the Shady-Side Peninsula Association, and last year launched an annual "Name the Baby Osprey Chick" for county elementary pupils. He rented space to two marine-related businesses.

Hewision says that Discovery Village has no separate staff and that employees do double duty as needed. He estimates the project's cost in the "low seven figures" and says most of the money will come from revenues.

Little by little, Discovery Village is taking shape, and major changes are expected by mid-summer.

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